Endemic switch on track

BANGKOK: The Ministry of Public Health is keeping to its original schedule of declaring COVID-19 an endemic disease on July 1 despite a forecast indicating an increase in fatalities, mainly among senior citizens.

COVID-19-infected people with mild symptoms can drive in and get COVID-19 medicines at a newly-opened Drive Thru service at a public van station in Pathum Thani’s Thanyaburi district. The service is operated by the Public Health office and is open from 10am to 6pm daily. Photo: Apichit Jinakul

Dr Chakkarat Pitayowonganon, director of the epidemiology division of the Department of Disease Control (DDC), said it will be two to four weeks before there is a clear indication if cases will climb to over 100,000 cases per day under a worst-case scenario forecast by the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), reports the Bangkok Post.

“Right now, we see a decline in the number of daily infections from about 30,000 RT-PCR tests per day before the Songkran festival to only 16,000 cases per day,” Dr Chakkarat said.

However, the number of deaths and those patients who need ventilators has increased. The DDC expects these numbers to rise during the first week of May.

According to the ministry, the average number of people who died due to COVID-19 over the past seven days was 107 cases per day, of whom 90% were elderly.

“Personally, I am not much worried about the infections after the festival because the risk group is working people who develop fewer symptoms,” Dr Chakkarat said.

“Many have already received one or two booster doses. But the problem is that they can transmit the disease to old people in their families. We may see more deaths among the elderly,” he said.

Dr Chakkarat said if there are no other possible risks such as new variants, then COVID-19 will be declared an endemic disease on July 1. To prepare for the endemic, he said the ministry must convince two million senior citizens, aged over 60, who still have not had their COVID-19 vaccination, to get their first shot, he said.

A ministry study found that the two-dose vaccine could reduce the death rate by five times and up to 31 times if boosters are also given to the elderly. It also found that half of the population has enhanced immunity levels against COVID-19, and that is expected to reach at least 70%.

Dr Chakkarat added that the department has received a report of small clusters in many places, adding that the next round of outbreaks is expected to come from social gathering sites such as military camps, schools and factories, instead of infections in families.

The department has advised that working from home is important for the first week after the Songkran festival. Those who need to be in the office are advised to take an ATK test before going to work and again in the middle of the week.

Meanwhile, Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul is preparing to propose a plan for an easing of measures to the CCSA on Friday.

Anutin also responded to a proposal by the Tourism and Sports Ministry to switch the RT-PCR test requirement to antigen tests for international arrivals.

He said the move will happen one day but a study is required first. Anutin said the current number of infections is not much different from that of the past few months.

But infection figures must be assessed to ensure the country’s readiness to declare COVID-19 as an endemic disease in July as planned, he said. “Preparedness in every aspect is the most important thing,” Anutin said.

“Getting infected with COVID-19 is normal due to face-to-face contact in daily life,” he said.

“If we’re all vaccinated, the prospect will not be quite as worrisome.”

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